Part 2: Tips to Develop a Successful College Financial Strategy

By Cynthia Rivera, J.D.


With today’s cost of a higher education, having insufficient funds to pay for college expenses is hardly an uncommon situation. In our previous article I discussed strategies that you may use when faced with the realization that the funds you dutifully invested over the years may not be enough to cover your child’s college education.

Paying for college is a significant expense for a family.  According to a recent College Board report, the average cost of tuition at a private college was $34,740 for the 2017-2018 school year.  At public universities, the cost for in-state students was $9,970 and for out-of-state students $25,620. Add to this the cost of room and board, books and other living expenses and the price tag per year can send most parents pulses racing.

Following are some tips that I hope can provide you with some guidance to a successful college financial strategy.

 Familiarize yourself with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows you to apply for federal financial aid such as grants, work-study, student loans and parent loans. The information you provide on the FAFSA is shared with the colleges to which your child plans to apply.

The FAFSA becomes available on October 1st for students seeking to attend college the following year.  You will need to fill out a FAFSA for every year that your child will be attending college.

Filling out the FAFSA can become a less daunting task if you are well prepared.  I recommend that you obtain a sample copy of the FAFSA and review it before your child begins their senior year of high school.  This proactive approach will allow you to have sufficient time to identify and gather data you will need to fill out the FAFSA.  Not only will you be familiar with the FAFSA format when October 1st comes, but you will have gathered all the necessary information as well.

The FAFSA now asks for older income and tax information to determine aid eligibility.  For example, on the 2018–19 FAFSA, you will report your 2016 income and tax information.Completing the FAFSA early in the process will provide you with a better chance at maximizing the amount of money you are potentially eligible to receive.

Write an Appeal Letter to the Financial Aid Office.

If the financial aid offer you received is not what you had expected, you can still write a letter of appeal to the Financial Aid office.   If your circumstances have changed since you filled out your FAFSA (the loss of a job, death, illness, divorce, additional dependents, expense for elderly parents’ care, etc.) you can write a letter of appeal, particularly if the financial package will prevent your child from attending his or her dream school.

Begin this process as soon as possible by contacting the financial aid office to learn about any special requirements that the college may have with regard to its financial aid appeal process.

The circumstances for writing an appeal letter should be clear and relevant.  Asserting in your letter that you lack the funds as a result of backpacking across Europe, remodeling your home, or purchasing a new car expenses would not make a good case for a financial aid appeal.

Have your child write the letter. A heartfelt appeal indicating his or her desire to attend that particular college, and the role that the additional funding will play in achieving such dream, will resonate better if it comes from the student.  Be specific about the amount of additional aid, based on what your family can afford.

In general, your child should begin the letter by enthusiastically thanking the college admissions committee for their offer. Do not complain about your financial package. Thank the school for the package they offered and proceed to describe the new circumstances that were not reflected on FAFSA. Mention additional honors, accomplishments or other projects that show how your child continues to excel.

If applicable, discuss comparable school scholarship offers.  But be polite and humble in your approach. Avoid using the word “negotiation,” “deal” or similar language. Instead explain how more aid would help your decision.  Finally, offer to meet in person or via phone to discuss or answer any additional questions that the Financial Aid Counselor may have.

There is no guarantee that an appeal will be successful, so continue to make plans to consider other sources such as private scholarships and loans, or perhaps other colleges that your child may have not considered.  I will address these strategies next.

This article is the second in a series on College and Family Finances, so stay tuned. To read Part 1 click https://jgua.com/1485-2/.  For a discussion regarding 529 Plans as a college saving strategy click http://jgua.com/529-plans-the-basics/

If you want to share any experiences or recommendations regarding paying for college that have worked (or have not worked) or if you are interested in a particular topic, please contact me at riverac@jgua.com.  We want to hear from you.

By |2019-04-06T01:17:15-05:00February 4th, 2019|Starting Out, The Blog @JGUA|